Are you a distracted driver?

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By Jennifer Osborne

Marion County Health Department

Driving is an everyday event for most people. Whether we are going to work or school, the grocery store, or just to visit a friend, we usually get in our vehicles without giving a second thought to the possibility that our actions may cause us to become distracted drivers.
Distracted driving occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off the task of driving safely.
The following are just a few types of driving distractions:
• Texting
• Using a cell phone or smartphone
• Eating and drinking
• Talking to passengers
• Grooming (putting on makeup, fixing hair, etc.)
• Reading, including maps
• Using a navigation system
• Watching a video
• Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
With today’s busy schedules and many responsibilities we can feel pressured to multi-task, even while driving.  But this can have devastating consequences.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “In 2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction, and an estimated 448,000 were injured. Among those killed or injured in these crashes, nearly 1,000 deaths and 24,000 injuries included cell phone use as the major distraction”.  
The following facts from the NHTSA demonstrate just how dangerous using a cell phone or texting while driving can be:
• Talking on a cell phone - even if it’s hands-free - saps the brain of 39% of the energy it would ordinarily devote to safe driving
• Using a cell phone while driving delays your reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol concentration of .08, the legal limit for drunk driving.  
• Drivers who use a hand-held device are 4 times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury
• Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to get involved in a crash
• Younger, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 may be at highest risk because they have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
In 2010, Kentucky law banned texting by all drivers while a vehicle is in motion. The law also banned the use of all personal communications devices by drivers under the age of 18.  There are, unfortunately, still many distractions that we must find ways to avoid while we are driving, to ensure that we arrive at our destination safely.  
Here are some tips from the Governors Highway Safety Association:
• Turn your phone off or switch to silent mode before you get in the car
• Set up a special message to tell callers that you are driving and you’ll get back to them as soon as possible
• If you need to make a call, pull over to a safe area first
• Ask a passenger to make the call for you
• Review maps and directions before you start to drive
• Secure pets properly before you start to drive
• Pull over to a safe location to address situations with your children in the car
• Focus on the task at hand - Refrain from smoking, eating, drinking, reading and any other activity that takes your mind and eyes off the road
Driving a vehicle is a responsibility that should be taken seriously.  Each time we open the car door we need to make sure that we do everything possible to eliminate known distractions and keep our mind on “the task at hand”.
For more information about distracted driving visit www.distraction.gov or call the Marion County Health Department at (270) 692-3393.